“Taslima’s misery somehow leads us to the crossroad where an imminent change of path is indispensable. The consolidation of secular liberal voices in the subcontinent who would vociferate not against the chauvinism of religious majority of a nation but against all the extreme elements of any religion across the border and battle for the absolute separation of ‘church and state’ is the demand of the hour. Are we up for it?”
Taslima Nasreen’s Duhsahobas
by Pratik Deb for AlalODulal.org
A Bengali soap opera named Duhsahobas, scripted by Taslima Nasreen, has recently been cancelled from being aired, thanks to the ever-indulgent policy of West Bengal government towards the religious conservatives. The soap Opera, depicting the story of three sisters and their struggle to cope within the patriarchal society of sub-continent, was scheduled to be aired from Aakash Aat, a local Bengali television channel and as soon as the trailer of the serial started to be broadcasted, the government officials took notice: leading to ‘unofficial’ yet definitive steps to ensure that the serial would not see the light of the day. The serial has, apparently, nothing to do with any religious orders and yet it did not fail to generate ire from some conservative Muslim leaders of the city leading to a few demonstrations demanding, as always, punishment and ouster for Taslima.
While different government officials, from police commissioner to ministers from Mamata Banerjee cabinet, have openly divulged their interference with the proceedings of the private channel to ensure that Duhsahobas does not get aired, it is rather conspicuous how the civil society remained silent on the issue. In a way, this silence was not surprising, but rather repetitive, reminding us of the ordeal Taslima had to face in 2007 that led to her departure from our city.
In the wake of Singur-Nandygram movement, when a definitive, independent and somewhat strident voice of civil society started to emerge in the scenes of Kolkata, the Kolkata based politics started to see a ray of hope: that an independent rational discourse might be introduced into otherwise rabidly partisan political panorama of West Bengal. This prospect dimmed for a while when in 2007, the infamous riot in the streets of Kolkata broke out. In her autobiography, banned by the ‘secular govt. of West Bengal’, Taslima had supposedly hurt the religious feelings that led to an earlier issuance of death warrant from an obscure Hyderabad based Islamist organization. Almost in an unexpected way that led to such rioting in the streets of Kolkata led by a never-heard-of entity called All India Minority Forum that army was to be called to restore order. This unprecedented incidence, however, failed to invoke even a lukewarm response from the ‘Biddatjans’ of Kolkata. The civil society again refused to speak up when the verdict was passed that Taslima has to leave the city for good and the city of joy witnessed its soul being offered to religious leaders who can only wind up people for their political gains.
Seven years down the road, we see the new regime, taking almost identical measures in order to secure ‘Muslim votes’ with the age old assumption of Indian politics that they can only represented by the most violent outliers, and is not concerned about economic or other socially relevant issues. This somewhat invokes a sense of déjà vu for us, as if the clockwork of Indian politics is set to repeat its own mistakes over and over again.
But apart from the political game, played by the myopic political parties, sensationalist mass-media and a few self-appointed guardians of religion; there is another implicit concern amid the liberals of India who would not voice out against conservative Islamists: the fear of a knee jerk reaction on the part of the Hindu majority who would took no time to stereotype Islam, and how the answer to the call for a “Islamic theocracy” is establishment of a Hindu theocracy.
The fear of the rise of fundamentalist among ourselves, the fear of sounding like and eventually being bunched with the Hindu right-wing politics, often keeps us from voicing the proper response. But we must remember how the infringement of free speech begins with such an innocuous incident followed by the silence of those whose voices do matter. And we must remind ourselves where that ends: with its omnivorous demand of appropriation of everything and anything on its path until not a single voice of dissent remains on its way.
Taslima’s misery somehow leads us to the crossroad where an imminent change of path is indispensable. The consolidation of secular liberal voices in the subcontinent who would vociferate not against the chauvinism of religious majority of a nation, but against all the extreme elements of any religion, and battle for the absolute separation of ‘church and state’ is the demand of the hour.
Are we up for it?